Protests sparked by Sarah Everard’s murder reoriented in controversial bill to give police more powers


London – British lawmakers on Tuesday night allowed a controversial new police bill, which critics say would restrict the public’s right to protest, to move to the next stage of parliamentary debate. The “Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill” has become the focal point of demonstrations in London after officers used heavy-handed methods to break a vigil for Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman who was killed last week while walking home at night.

The man accused of killing Everard is an active police officer.

Protesters gathered in front of the House of Commons as Parliament debated Tuesday, chanting “Eliminate the bill.”

“It is not enough for us to say that the police do not protect us. We must say loud and clear that the police are the cause, not the solution, of the racist and sexist violence we experience,” a protest organizer told the gathered crowd. . in Parliament Square in London during the fourth day of protests in the city.

“This is for Sarah and for all the other women,” said Ngozi Fulani, who runs the London-based domestic violence charity Sistah Space. “Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Blessing, whether they’re in America or here, brutality is brutality.”

The police bill

The “Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill”, if enacted, would give the police additional powers to reduce protests, including imposing start and end times on static demonstrations, as well as limiting noise deemed by authorities to cause “intimidation or harassment.”

“The lax and lazy way this legislation is written would make a dictator blush,” said Member of Parliament Gavin Robinson during the debate leading up to Tuesday’s vote. “The protests will be loud, the protests will interrupt and no matter how offensive we may find the issue in your heart, the right to protest must be protected.”

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said in a statement that she wanted to reform police powers after Extinction Rebellion’s anti-climate change demonstrations last April, “specifically to deal with protests where people are not mainly violent or seriously disorderly but, as in this case, it was intended to bring the police to their knees and stop the city. “

The bill would also criminalize a protest to block traffic entrances to Parliament, effectively limiting the public’s right to protest in front of the UK seat of government.

Following heavy-handed policing of the vigil honoring Sarah Everard on Saturday night, and in light of the fact that the man accused of killing Everard is a police officer, critics have said that, in addition to raising concerns about civil liberties, improving police powers will do nothing to address the problem of violence against women.

“We are fed up with male violence, whether at the hands of the state, our partners, our family members or strangers,” said Member of Parliament Nadia Whittome during Tuesday’s debate. Explaining that he had participated in protests against the police surveillance of Saturday’s vigil for Everard and the bill, he added: “We march because some people do not survive male violence.”

Widespread opposition

More than 150 organizations, including religious and human rights groups and trade unions, sent an open letter on Monday to Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, who oversees UK law enforcement, asking her to reconsider the legislation. .

They argued that the bill, which was only released for public scrutiny about a week ago, “is being rushed through parliament during a pandemic and before civil society and the public have been able to fully understand its profound implications.”

Memorial site on Clapham Common Bandstand, following the kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard in London
Police detain a woman as people gather at a memorial site on Clapham Common Bandstand, following the kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard.

HANNAH MCKAY / REUTERS


“For a country that so often prides itself on its civil liberties, this bill represents an attack on some of the most fundamental rights of citizens, particularly those of marginalized communities, and is being pushed forward in a moment and in a way in which those who will be subject to its provisions are the least able to respond, ”the letter says.

The opposition British Labor Party, which was initially abstaining from voting, announced Sunday that its lawmakers would vote against the bill. Still on Tuesday, the bill went to the next stage of debate.

On Monday, in response to Everard’s assassination, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a separate plan to address violence against women by increasing CCTV coverage and street lighting, and putting more undercover police officers on patrol in bars and clubs when allow them to open again. .

But protesters argued that while CCTV and lighting may be beneficial, especially in light of the Everard case, more police officers with more powers will not address the root of the problem.

“We don’t just want excessive surveillance and more police officers abusing their powers towards women. We want real action,” Jennifer, 25, said during Monday’s rally. “We want to spend money on services for women. We want there to be a cultural change that protects women and fights misogyny and violence.”

“They are taking our control. I know my generation doesn’t want that,” said 19-year-old Nancy, who was demonstrating in front of Parliament Tuesday night. He promised that he would continue to protest the bill, despite any possible increase in police powers.

“People are afraid of being called radical, crazy or hypersensitive, but especially with women, we do our best and walk home with friends, call our boyfriends and hold the keys between our fingers, so this is it. what we can do. they are gone now. “

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